Sport Ireland Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Irish Sports Council defines sport as all forms of physical activity, which through casual or organised participation aim at expressing or improving physical fitness and mental well-being, forming social relationships or obtaining results in competition at all levels.

We must be careful that we do not make sport too competitive at a young age which may lead to youngsters being excluded from sport if they are seen not to be good at it. It has been noted that some youngsters might not be good at a certain age but peak later at 18, 19 or 20. There is a sport for every age in life. Other Members spoke about sports for those with disabilities and we must ensure services are provided in this regard.

There is a concern that young people give up sport when they are doing the leaving certificate because of perceived pressures from academia, as well as the need to get good results and spend time studying. My experience as a teacher indicates that young people involved in sport also do well in their academic studies because sport acts as a catalyst to give them more energy, interest and to be more positive in their outlook. I would like to see some form of credits at leaving certificate level for young people involved in physical activity to encourage more participation in sports. I know the Gaisce awards are in place.

We must balance the academic pressure faced by students at leaving certificate level in particular. Everyone should be involved in some form of sport and if young people are involved in sport at some level perhaps we could consider giving them credit or points towards the leaving certificate. Education is about the whole person and we now know that physical activity is a very important part of preparing for life, which is the purpose of education.

I spoke yesterday about alcohol and the below-cost sale of it. Reference was made to the positive role of sport as a deterrent from use and abuse of alcohol. Other studies indicate it also has a beneficial effect in terms of leading people away from delinquency and crime.

I also raised the need to expand the swimming pool programme. The economic value of sport is interesting. In 2008 an Indecon study concluded that Irish households spent more than €1.8 billion on sporting activities and that sport brings in more than €200 million into the economy per year. The volunteer element of sport, which is very important, is valued at between €322 million and €582 million annually.

Sports partnerships operate all over the country. They were established by the Irish Sports Council. They are very important and do a very good job. They bring sport to the most local level possible. The Minister of State should be aware they probably need more support in terms of resources and focus in the work they do. I would like to see mechanisms put in place whereby encouragement is provided for the formation of clubs for minority sports such as badminton and table tennis. Such sports cost very little and local sports partnerships could be funded in order to provide funding for a badminton club or basketball club to start up. All that is required is a few nets and some rackets. Small amounts of money could help get clubs started. They might also need help with the rental of premises but once they start up they would form a dynamic of their own. We should devise a programme to promote that aim. Doping is addressed in the Bill, which is very important to preserve the integrity of Irish sport. I commend the Bill to the House.

Thank you, Acting Chairman, and congratulations on your elevation to the acting Chair. I wish you well in the new role you have taken on.

Like previous speakers I welcome the Bill, which will bring about a merger between the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority. Any merger which will result in efficiencies, improvements and shared services, in particular at a time when money is scarce – as the Minister of State is very well aware – is to be welcomed. I congratulate the Minister of State on his recent reappointment to the position. As Minister of State with responsibility for sport I am aware he has a huge passion for sport. I often see him on TV at various events that take place. He puts a lot of time and effort into promoting sport in Ireland. He is very suited to the role he has taken on.

The creation of a single entity, sport Ireland, will make a difference. The sports campus at Blanchardstown is one where world-class training will be provided for sports people in future. The National Aquatic Centre is located there and the diving training centre, the horse sport arena and the pentathlon centre are already constructed. They are very much state of the art and will help elite sports people to compete at the highest level and to stay in this country and achieve excellent results.

A new national indoor athletics track, an indoor sports centre and a gymnastics training centre have been provided for in the budget. Could the Minister of State provide an update on how the work is progressing? The previous speaker referred to indoor sports such as basketball, badminton, squash and handball. What assistance will be provided for such fringe sports in the national sports arena to encourage more participation in them? Has a study been carried out on the number of sports in which the country competes internationally? If we have the information we could dedicate the small resources we have to certain sports such as boxing, sailing and equestrian sports in order to achieve the best results in areas that provide the best opportunity for achieving medals, for example, in the Olympics. There is a case to be made for us to focus more on an international level on the sports in which we achieve more success. It is important that sport is funded adequately in this country. We want to see more sports people competing and doing the country proud, as it brings great pride to the country and we all get a lift in our spirits when Irish athletes compete and do well internationally.

Childhood obesity is linked to children not competing in sports. They play computer games indoors rather than play outside. Has the Minister of State given any thought to having a national sports day to encourage schoolchildren to compete? Perhaps he would even tog out himself in order to encourage more participation in sport which is good for health and physical and mental well-being. Obesity is a scourge among children at present. We must take more preventative action in order to keep people out of hospital so as to avoid further strains on hospital resources in the future.

Sports clubs and organisations are the cornerstones of our communities and provide an important outlet for local residents to socialise. Sports clubs bring communities together. We are all familiar with the GAA and the great impact it has had on the country. Everyone gets involved and follows the local parish team. It is the same with soccer clubs. Such participation very much helps communities.

Sports grants, in particular the sports capital funding scheme, which the Minister of State has reopened – there have already been two rounds – have been most successful. I congratulate the Minister of State on all the work he has done in that regard. I accept the resources are limited and it is difficult to please everyone. It is important that all parts of the country get a fair crack of the whip. In my constituency, football clubs in particular have benefitted, for example, Kilbarrack United FC, Mid Sutton FC, St Malachy's in Edenmore and Howth Celtic. Other local sporting organisations that have benefitted include Howth Yacht Club and the sailing and boating club, Trinity Boys boxing club, Clontarf tennis club, Clontarf yacht club and Suttonians Hockey Club in Sutton. A number of local GAA clubs were also successful with their funding applications, including Parnell's in Coolock. I am not sure whether the Minister of State has had an opportunity to visit the club yet but it is a fine establishment that is doing great work in helping young children to compete in Gaelic games. As the Minister of State is aware, such work is very important for various reasons. I hope there will be a programme next year and in the coming years. The fund provides great help and support to clubs badly in need of investment to keep games alive.

The Irish rugby teams, both women and men, have done very well in recent years. The captain of the Irish women's rugby team, Fiona Coghlan, hails from my constituency of Dublin Bay North, so I kept a close eye on the great success of the team in defeating New Zealand and reaching the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup. Raheny United is a football club in my constituency that is doing well at its level of the Champions League.

I hope the success of Irish sportsmen and women nationally and internationally encourages more people to get involved in sport. Sport has a positive effect on health and provides a social outlet that allows people to meet in sports clubs and the like. Lifelong friendships can be made between sporting competitors.

Regarding the Bill, I note that the Minister will appoint the first chief executive officer, CEO, and that thereafter the board will appoint his or her successors. Will the Oireachtas committee have a role to play in this process? Will the appointment of a specific nominee be debated in the committee before it is decided? What efficiencies will come about as a result of the merger? Will there be redundancies or will savings be achieved through natural wastage over time? I know, for example, there will only be one CEO, rather than the two currently employed, so that is a saving in terms of management. More information would be helpful.

Alcohol sponsorship in sport is a thorny subject, as the Minister of State is aware, and I know this country has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. However, alcohol companies are providing funding to sport that is needed by various organisations but is there a plan to wean them from such sponsorship and remove alcohol from the sports equation? I know this will take time but I believe a working group in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Department of the Taoiseach is examining this subject. Can the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, give us a report on this?

I am sure the Acting Chairman, Deputy Derek Keating, is delighted that Dublin will host Euro 2020 matches and I too welcome this news as it is a boost for Dublin. I congratulate the Minister of State on this legislation, wish him well and ask that he respond to the issues I raised.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill, which has been brought forward by the Minister of State, Deputy Ring. The legislation will establish sport Ireland by combining the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority and this is a significant move that fits the Government's policy of streamlining national organisations and agencies. Bringing together two organisations with such expertise will give a better focus on the development of sports policy in Ireland as they have separate skill sets.

When I was a child little thought was given to sport and it was not very developed. We did some running during the community games and that was about all we did so it is incredible how things have changed in a short amount of time. We now focus on developing elite athletes while encouraging young people to achieve all they can at the highest level they can attain, be that local or amateur level. When I was young the focus was on community and amateur sports but there would be a burst of national pride when an individual won an Olympic medal for running, boxing or the like. We did not understand how people reached such a level or who encouraged them to do so. We did not think we could achieve such feats because we did not have role models.

The approach today is more sophisticated and our understanding of the role of sport in society has improved. Today some individuals pursue excellence on the world stage while others are encouraged, through engagement with local communities, to attain at different levels, regardless of the type of sport in question, whether it be soccer, GAA, boxing, swimming or cycling. Nowadays even a weekly walk or a rare jog is considered to be sport as they are part of the overall sporting picture in the country. This sporting picture applies to everyone. Whatever level a person can attain, he or she should participate in sport at some level, regardless of age or sex. It is important to realise that clubs and sporting organisations need support.

The reintroduction of sports capital grants was good recognition of the opportunity presented when clubs apply for funding. There was a fantastic response to the scheme from clubs and this shows the commitment that exists. I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, on reintroducing this in recent years. A cross-section of clubs in Offaly - from handball clubs to boxing clubs to soccer and GAA clubs - applied for and received funding. Some clubs were left disappointed and this is a pity, but there were many successful applicants and I was heartened to see the variety of proposals received. For example, clubs with extensive sports pitches are using the space around the pitches to give safe access for walking and running. There is so much traffic on roads now that this offers a safe alternative to those who were put off such free and easy exercise. I commend the clubs that are diversifying and making walking and running tracks available for entire communities. Once upon a time there was much talk of insurance and restricted access due to fear of twisted ankles and so on, but this has been overcome. It goes to show the commitment in communities to equal access for all. Most of these clubs have access for disabled people too, and this is very important so that they can get fresh air and exercise like everyone else.

On the subject of disability, I hope that sport Ireland will ensure that any sports facilities that are being constructed, from pitches to national stadiums, will be accessible to people with disabilities. Designs must be adequate to ensure people with disabilities can participate and view in comfort, like everyone else. I had the privilege of launching the Irish Wheelchair Association's building guidelines, which were produced for the building industry.

These guidelines were produced after wide consultation with all of its members. It is difficult to believe that despite the fact it has been producing these guidelines for so many years errors are still being made in designing sporting buildings and other buildings throughout the country. When people produce plans to develop pitches or new stadia they should ensure they are disability-proofed by using these fantastic guidelines produced by the people who know exactly what they need. I would like these guidelines to be a module in every course for every planner, architect and engineer throughout the country so they would be very familiar with the needs of people with disabilities. The association was very complimentary about Croke Park and the wonderful work done when it was being developed. The Aviva Stadium has also been made very accessible for people with disabilities and they can view sporting events the same as everybody else.

Access to sporting opportunities is different in various parts of the country and we need to focus in particular on access for young women. By having role models such as Katie Taylor we have seen an upsurge and interest in young women's boxing. I had the privilege of presenting the national jerseys to our team which went to Assisi earlier this year and returned with four medals. Young fit women from throughout the country committed to training and aiming for the top and they were an inspiration. One of them is from Edenderry in Offaly and she returned with a medal, which was wonderful. St. Mary's boxing club there is doing wonderful work in supporting them. A young woman from Tullamore, Gráinne Walsh, also won a gold medal. These young people are committed to training and aiming for the top and the fact they have role models encourages them to participate at this level.

The anti-doping aspect of the Bill is most welcome and critical with regard to education and a commitment to link with the international community on measures to prevent doping. We are all agreed that sport is good for us, whether one participates in it or not. The terrible negativity associated with being involved with doping and cheating is a disgrace for the athletes, their clubs and the country. Every effort needs to be made to link all of the sporting organisations and share data with An Garda Síochána so people can compete cleanly on a level playing field. Whistleblowers need to be listened to in the sporting arena also. We have heard about many people raising a flag and stating something is not right and being ignored. They have been proven to be right in the long term and we need to think carefully about this.

I welcome the announcement yesterday by the Minister of State, Deputy Harris, on the valuation legislation with regard to clubs only paying rates on the part of the club generating income. This will be very welcome because it has been a concern for many clubs which have made a huge effort to build and develop their facilities.

It would not be fair to speak about sport without reflecting on the wonderful successes of our Paralympians and Special Olympians. This week we had tremendous success in the Special Olympics. I will be parochial again and refer to Conor Dwyer from Birr, County Offaly who brought home gold in swimming. His family and the entire community are proud of him and what a tremendous achievement it is.

As a society we must reflect that participation in sport enhances everybody's quality of life, whatever one's capability or capacity and whether one is aiming for elite sport or just going for a run every week. One's quality of life is much better as a result of participating. It would be good for us all in the long term if we participated a bit more in sport. The knock-on effects in health are well documented.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I commend the Minister of State on the outstanding work he has done on it. It bodes very well for future sporting policy development in Ireland.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this important legislation. The Sport Ireland Bill will see the amalgamation of two prestigious bodies that have made a considerable contribution to sports in the country since their initiation. The Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority, NSCDA, have overseen the development and growth of sports in their respective remits, and their functions will now be assumed by spórt Éireann.

At times of economic crisis and social change, it is easy to overlook sport and underestimate its importance and afford all other areas a priority. While economic recovery has no doubt retained the focus of the Government since it assumed office three and a half years ago, if we were to neglect the area of sport it would very much be at our peril. I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, and his officials in particular on keeping the focus on sport and fighting tooth and nail to ensure it got its fair share. The Minister of State has been responsible for not one round of sports capital funding but two rounds and I know it is his intention to seek support for a third round before the Government leaves office.

Visitors from Newbridge College in County Kildare have just left the Visitors Gallery. Time and again experts tell us it is not a young person's level of academic ability that determines his or her success but rather his or her level of self-confidence and self-belief and the social skills acquired as he or she develops. These are the qualities which determine future success in our young people. Sporting clubs throughout the country and the Minister of State have done a huge amount in very difficult times over the past three and a half years to nurture, encourage and develop these qualities in our young people. This is the ultimate achievement of any sporting organisation.

There is a firmly established correlation between the level of physical activity of a population and its standard of health. The most effective vehicle for encouraging people, particularly young people, to increase their level of activity is sport. There is also a link between the level of participation in sporting activities and reductions in tobacco, drug and alcohol use. It also creates an awareness of the importance of good nutrition and has a positive impact on integration and social environments. These are all key societal objectives of any responsible government, and its lead agency in this area is therefore one of considerable importance. Spórt Éireann will assume this role.

Unfortunately, studies have consistently shown that the number of Irish adults who regularly engage in a desirable level of physical activity is too low. In 2007, the proportion of adults exercising at least three days a week was just over 40%. Similarly alarming is the fact that this figure had not changed over the previous ten years. In 2002 it stood at 40% and in 1998 the figure was 38%. However, through increased levels of participation in sports from a young age people can learn the importance of physical exercise, and this figure can be improved upon in the future.

Participation in sporting activities, of course, reduces the risk of chronic diseases and is an essential tool in our bid to combat obesity. Equally, at a time when mental health is such an increasingly urgent issue, the importance of sport and physical activity in addressing related problems cannot be underestimated. The effective management and promotion of sports in the country is central to capitalising on all of these benefits and this serves to highlight the importance of the legislation which the Minister of State has brought before us.

The Government recognises the importance of sport and the role it has to play in maintaining a healthy population and in fostering social cohesion. Enormous credit is due to the Minister of State who has overseen effective and substantial investment in Irish sport and recreation services over the past three years. In my constituency, I have worked very closely with a number of clubs and organisations that have benefitted under the sports capital programmes in recent years. These include clubs such as Claregalway GAA, St. James GAA, Mervue United, Salthill-Knocknacarra GAA and Galway Rowing Club.

The sports capital programme has been spread evenly throughout the country.

I was in Belmullet - in Blacksod - at the weekend and I noticed that the Minister of State did not leave out Mayo; there has been a huge investment in sporting clubs in Mayo and some very fine facilities have been developed across the country. These clubs provide wonderful role models for us all and particularly for our young people who now more than ever require role models. They were very significant investments because sport is just as important in the community as it is at a national level. Having been involved in these organisations I can see how the investment in clubs in many areas has had a very positive impact on teams, communities and individuals. The Minister of State, Deputy Ring, and the officials in his Department obviously have a great appreciation of the importance of that and it has seen him succeed in maintaining a substantial level of investment in sport in spite of the background of serious challenges with finances he would have faced.

Sports Ireland will have a parallel complementary role to play at community and national level. At national level the agency will have an important part to play in preparing for Euro 2020 when the eyes of the world will be on us in Ireland as we host matches in the group and last-16 stages of that competition. That obviously will be a massive occasion for the country and for Dublin. Our success in demonstrating our ability to cater for events of that scale will open the doors in future for similar and bigger opportunities. Galway city very successfully hosted the Volvo Ocean Race and the Minister of State presented the winning team with that prestigious award. That showcased Galway and demonstrated the city's ability to host these big events. So successful was that initial event that we won the right to host the finale on a second occasion. It was a huge boost for Galway city and the region.

There is immense economic and reputational value in hosting these events and this new body will have an important role to play in facilitating future events of this nature. The role of sport Ireland in promoting participation in sport at community level must never be neglected at the cost of its activities on the national or international stage. I welcome the Bill and I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to it.

The next speaker is Deputy O'Reilly, who is sharing time with Deputy Butler. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the legislation. The objective of the Bill is to provide for the dissolution of the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority with their merger into the new sport Ireland body. It designates sport Ireland as the national anti-doping agency. The legislation allows for retaining the current master plan for the National Sports Campus. Those are laudable objectives.

The main principle of the new body is to be responsible for the development and co-ordination of sport in Ireland and the campus. It is also part of the rationalisation of bodies proposed by the Minister, Deputy Howlin, in the public reform plan 2011 with the objective of focusing on customer service, new ways of doing things and an emphasis on delivery. Those are laudable objectives. The objectives the Minister, Deputy Howlin, set there are very important and worthwhile and should be implemented. This is another example of that.

One of the main functions of sport Ireland will be to encourage recreational sport, as well as competitive sport and getting sponsorship. Recreational sport is of enormous importance. An emphasis on participation is very important in the fight against obesity. It is self-evident how it impacts in that regard. It is very important to develop a range of activities to which many people can relate and involve themselves in, including cycling. I am very happy that in my county since the Government came into office, we have provided many cycle lanes in our towns and hinterland. Walking trails are important and my county council is doing considerable work in that regard. Mass participation in walking is important. All of these activities are important for health and for self-confidence in our young people and their capacity to avoid substance abuse etc.

I pay particular tribute to the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, who has been extraordinarily effective and dynamic in his Ministry. In the context of the times in which he has functioned, he has been particularly effective. The actual value of the sports capital grants is inestimable. We have had two rounds of them under the stewardship of the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, and we are heading into another one, we hope. They have done an enormous job. In partnership with the Minister of State and through assisting clubs with applications and empowering clubs in so far as I and my office could, I am delighted to say a large number of clubs from a diverse range of sports, backgrounds and activities, from urban, rural and different socioeconomic areas etc. in my constituency have benefitted greatly from sports capital grants. I salute the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, for that.

Far better than any platitudinous remarks about sports or grand speeches is to provide people with the wherewithal. We are now building the facilities and providing floodlighting for use in the winters, Tartan tracks and other infrastructure to allow for mass participation in sport. I am very proud to see this activity, which of course is labour intensive in many instances and creating jobs, but very importantly allows for mass participation in sport. It is an enormous achievement and one of which the Minister of State and the rest of the Government can be immensely proud. I am certainly proud to have been a facilitator and to some degree an organiser of a number of those. It is extremely important work.

We are all acutely aware of the cost of the health service in contemporary times - it is a perennial debate and does not merit repetition here. When we think of the cost of the health service, sport as an antidote or an alternative to health breakdown and difficulty is a very cheap option. It is not used enough. It is a very good way to keep people physically and mentally well, particularly our young people. Parents, educators and people who have experience of youth work will say that young people who enjoy and are involved in sport at some level - it does not need to be a high competitive level - do not become victims of substance abuse. Invariably they live complete lives and critically have a good self-image.

For young people it is how they perceive themselves and the degree of inner confidence they have that are important and will allow them to make the correct choices in life. Sport is key to giving young people that kind of inner confidence and the disciplines that go with training and participation in sport, the team effect etc. Even for those who are less athletic the participation and camaraderie that goes with it are important. There is wisdom among many sporting organisations in this respect.

A mass-participation activity in the sporting sphere that many people enjoy is swimming. I am delighted that through the good offices of the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, we have been able to support many swimming pools in my constituency, including those in Cavan town and Bailieborough. It is an important mass activity.

As well as developing recreational sport - the main issue is participation - I urge the new council to focus on participation in a range of activities. I encourage the Minister of State to include a sufficiently wide range of activities, whether it is walking, swimming or cycling, so that there is something for everyone.

I note that in some ways, cycling has become the new golf and has developed significantly. While that sort of activity is important, we must also develop our competitive sport, which also is important. One must salute the work of the GAA and other sporting bodies in this area. Social historians will never record properly the good done by the voluntary personnel in the GAA throughout the country on Saturday mornings, Sundays and week nights as they do their training and the pitch preparation, sometimes in dreary and dark conditions. These people are real patriots. However, there also is a need to develop and support competitive sport, and in this respect, it has been a wonderful achievement that key matches in the latter stages of the Euro 2020 competition will be played here. This again is a credit to the Government, the Minister of State and the collective effort. It is a huge achievement for the country as it is highly prestigious and will be very significant in terms of tourism product and the county's profile, as well as in the encouragement of participation in sport.

The new body will have responsibility for tackling doping and the supervision of the anti-doping regime. It is critical that doping be eliminated and for a set of structures and checks to be in place that prevent even its contemplation. It is so important from every perspective, including the country's image, as well as for sport and all things, that doping should be controlled, that there should be disqualification and discipline and that a transparent process should be in place. This is implicit in and central to the legislation and will be implemented. As times are improving, thankfully, one of the new body's important roles will be to develop the national sports campus. It is a huge campus with enormous potential on which 500 acres are available, and I look forward to its development, which will be an important step.

Coaching is part of the new body's brief. As a primary teacher by background and as someone who represents a community and observes what goes on around me, coaching in schools has had an enormous impact. I refer to the trained qualified coaches, in respect of whom there must be standardisation, that is, the proper good quality coaches who have been vetted in every way for child protection and so on and who have been going into schools. I urge the Minister of State to develop coaching and make sure it becomes a mass activity everywhere. It is very important to support such activity.

This legislation is good and brings together a lot of very good work. It ties it together, puts it under one roof and rationalises it. I salute what the Minister of State has achieved thus far and I commend its continuation. If this was able be done to the extent it was during recessionary times, much more can be done now that we are emerging from recession. The objective is that each person in the country, irrespective of age, social background, educational level or health profile, has some level of participation every week in something that can be described as sport or recreational sport. This must be the objective and the aim and I commend that to the Minister of State as an objective above all others.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill and congratulate the Minister of State and the Departments concerned on getting agreement to have part of the Euro 2020 championship finals played in Ireland. The Sports Bill 2014 provides for the dissolution of the Irish Sports Council, ISC, and the National Sports Campus Development Authority, NSCDA, and for the merger of the functions into a single entity to be established and known as sport Ireland. This is to be welcomed. A merger of the council and the authority is part of the Government's programme for the rationalisation of State agencies and is in line with Fine Gael's manifesto commitment to cut the number of Government quangos. The merger of the organisations will result in a number of savings, including savings resulting from the removal of duplication of administrative functions, as well as reduced salary costs on foot of the elimination of one chief executive post.

My forte arises from my lifelong involvement with the four-legged athletes of the greyhound industry, and it is evident that a reduction in the number of chief executive posts would represent a huge saving. President Obama would not be getting the same wages as some of the chief executive officers who got posts from the previous Administration, and this measure is to be greatly welcomed. I am familiar with the huge cost associated with putting in place the anti-doping measures within the greyhound industry, and I am sure it is the same in respect of two-legged sport as well. Consequently, the reduction in the total number of board members, with a consequential reduction in fees payable, is also to be welcomed because many of these boards were quangos and I definitely agree with this reduction in numbers.

The Bill also designates sport Ireland as the national anti-doping organisation for the State and proposes enhanced provisions in respect of anti-doping in Irish sport. The Bill includes new provisions that will help sport Ireland in its work combatting doping in sport, thereby continuing the work done by the Irish Sports Council in this area. As all Members are aware, doping is a serious problem in all sports. I hope the single body, sport Ireland, will finally bring in serious new rules and regulations in respect of doping in sports. If people do the crime, the punishment should fit the crime. When a lifetime ban is being given, it should mean a lifetime ban, not like other bans where, after a period, this sentence is changed. While there is a saying that time is a good healer, when it comes to doping and cheating, nobody should get a lighter sentence if found guilty. This issue even has arisen in the sport I love so well, namely, greyhound racing, in which bans were imposed but then were lifted. In other sports, such bans also were lifted after a period. This should not be the case and if a lifetime ban is handed down, it should last a lifetime.

I also welcome the announcement yesterday by the Minister of State, Deputy Harris, regarding the rates issue on sports facilities that sporting bodies with bar licences will only be valued for rates in respect of the bar in the clubhouse. This is welcome because sporting bodies nationwide have been left with huge rates bills and have been obliged to close the facilities. In my home town of Trim, the GAA club built a fabulous sports facility and bar, and although the bar only took up one room in the area, the club's rates bill was astronomically huge. It was obliged to close the bar, which was very sad because it was a wonderful facility in the clubhouse. When the club runs functions, it currently is obliged to seek a licence for just the nights on which they are being run, which is a great expense to the club. Moreover, the club is paying off a huge rates bill with which it was left. Consequently, this is welcome news for all sports and social clubs nationwide.

To revert to the Bill, it is to be welcomed. It provides for a statutory basis for Ireland's anti-doping programme and for Irish anti-doping rules. It also provides for information sharing between sport Ireland and relevant organisations, including the Irish Medicines Board, the Garda Síochána and Customs and Excise, which is an essential element in the fight against doping in sport. It is essential that sport is played on a level playing field, and this Bill will ensure this takes place.

The next speakers are Deputies Hannigan and Wall, who are sharing 20 minutes. Is that agreed? Agreed.

It gives me great pleasure to support this Bill, which is a vital piece of infrastructure in respect of improving the image of sport in Ireland. The Irish are a nation of sports fanatics, be that in respect of the four-legged beings to which Deputy Butler referred or simply the two-legged beings. I first wish to congratulate the Minister of State on all his efforts during his term of office over the past three and a half years to put sport on an even higher pedestal than we in Ireland had placed it.

The sports capital programme is vital to clubs and organisations in every part of the country. It gives an impetus to communities, with grants supporting employment through the local contractor and so on. All of this spin-off brings a vibrancy to whole communities, regardless of which sporting organisation or club receives the grant. It gives people a sense of pride to know they have fought for their own, developing their community and providing an alternative to anti-social behaviour, drugs and so on. That is of enormous value at this time. In recent days we saw that the drug barons are working hard to bring their product into the country. It is a hard battle we are fighting. Sport offers young people a positive alternative and we must continue to develop it in every shape and form.

Our elite athletes have served us well and shown a great example to young people. Nobody can deny the time, effort and dedication they have given to their country, whatever the sport in which they represent it. Golf is one of our major sports and I take this opportunity to wish Paul McGinley, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell well tomorrow when they represent Europe in the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles. Mr. McGinley has been a wonderful ambassador for Ireland as captain of the Ryder Cup team and we hope it all goes well for him tomorrow.

As I said, supporting local clubs is vital, not least because of the role they play in preventing anti-social behaviour and ensuring the drug barons do not win. The only way we can defeat them is by reducing the demand for what they sell. To do that we must provide outlets that will engage young people. As a fanatical supporter of sport, it seems to me it is one of the best outlets. There is a challenge to be met here. I urge the Minister of State to speak with all the national organisations to examine this aspect. There is always somebody left out when funding is distributed, and it is when young people are isolated and bored that drugs can seem attractive. There are wonderful people giving of their time voluntarily throughout the country. Deputy Joe O'Reilly spoke about sports volunteers working every hour of the day and night. We must support what they are doing by giving direction from the top.

The Minister of State has a feel for sport, which is essential for the job he is doing. I saw the delight on his face at the announcement of host countries for the European Championship in 2020. This is a great achievement for Ireland and will mean a great deal to the young people who believe in soccer. The latter is not my sport, as John Delaney would readily acknowledge; it has always been the GAA for me. I have been chairman of the county board and of supporters' clubs. That is incidental, however, because the particular sport is not relevant. It is about encouraging young people to participate in something they enjoy.

Reference was made to the greyhound industry. In my constituency, the bloodstock industry plays a vital role and we look forward to the redevelopment of the Curragh racecourse. The home of the five Irish classics should have best facilities and be able to attract people from all over the world. I urge the Minister of State to work with Horse Racing Ireland to ensure that happens. The Punchestown festival is another wonderful event, second only to Cheltenham and almost matching it at this stage.

It is about focusing on the future and getting young people interested in sport. We must work to direct them toward participating in whichever sport takes their interest. We must help them to think positively about themselves and what they can do. Everybody has a role to play in their own community, club, school and so on. The only way to reduce demand for drugs is via education and offering people alternatives. The drug barons can take drugs themselves if they wish, but they must not be allowed to harm our children. Their aim is to get as much money as they can, with no concern for the effect on anybody.

Measures to reform the rates and valuations system are of great importance. Problems in this regard have been ongoing for a long time. We have all expressed concerns about the drinks industry, alcohol advertising and so on, but that is not what this is about. It is about a wrong that was done to sports clubs whereby they were obliged to pay higher rates than was ever envisaged simply because their facilities included a bar. It is only right that such rates should be reduced. The moneys we are talking about are used by volunteers to develop facilities for their communities. It was crazy to ask people to pay those types of rates when they were about was of such benefit to their town or community. People worked hard to earn the cash they were using to support and develop a particular sport.

We are approaching the time when the sports capital grants will be allocated and I have no doubt that the Minister of State will be thumping the table in an effort to secure as much funding as he can. There are 166 Members in this House and 60 in the other House and not a single one would argue against the importance of this scheme, because it means so much to people. I am sometimes amazed when I visit a club or organisation which has benefitted from big money. I am also amazed when I see how even a small allocation can make a huge difference to another club. I wish the Minister of State well as he seeks to secure another round of funding.

The national sports campus is a fantastic asset. I recently met members of Team Tyrone, which is the GAA supporters' club in that county. In Kildare, we have the Hawkfield centre of excellence for elite footballers. The Tyrone people could not understand why it had been given this elite designation, because, apart from the county teams, it deprived everybody else of the use of it. They could not see the logic in it at all. Their training centre, they explained, was for everybody, not just the elite. I urge the Minister of State to ensure that clubs all over Dublin or anywhere else in the country who wish to train in the national sports campus are facilitated. When people go home to their own club, they can tell their fellow members what they did and what they learned. This already happens to some extent in the case of Croke Park, with local clubs and schools encouraged to go there and see the facilities. The same should apply to the national sports campus. As we develop that facility for every aspect of sport, I hope we will see this type of inclusiveness.

Several speakers referred to the increasing numbers taking up walking and running in recent years. My club in Castlemitchell was recently involved in a couch to 5 km initiative.

People came to the club to train to walk, cycle or run the 5 km. Some 70 to 80 people turned up for the 5 km. The benefit to the community of showing what the GAA club was able to do was enormous. When we get an opportunity, we should not throw it away because a club is a rugby club or whatever. People may be able to use facilities on its grounds, etc. and that can be of huge benefit to the community.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill, which is a very positive move. Not only will another quango disappear from Irish life but a new leaner organisation will take its place. I hope sport Ireland will play a key role in the development of sport throughout the country and, in particular, will focus on young people and on people from new communities and get them involved.

Like the previous speaker, my colleague, Deputy Wall, I know of the importance of sport in people's lives and I also know of the commitment of the Minister of State. He has not had the pleasure of watching his own county win an All-Ireland final unlike my colleague, Deputy Wall, and myself but I note he was an all-Ireland winner when at school in the vocational schools all-Ireland competition. I know the Minister of State realises how important it is ensure not only one particular group in sport gets all the funding and that we share as much money as we can across communities.

In my constituency of Meath East, I have seen how a little bit of funding can go a long way to help to build communities, in particular new communities, of which we have seen a large influx recently, but also rural communities. We have spoken in the past about a particular athletics club in Meath. Cushinstown Athletics Club was set up in the middle of a small townland and over the years, the community has come together to turn it into one of the best athletics club in the country. Clubs like that need to be supported.

The Minister of State will also be aware of the Boyne Valley cycle route - the new greenway that stretches all the way from Drogheda along the River Boyne to the Battle of the Boyne site in Oldbridge. It is a great new amenity only made possible by the support of this Government and the Minister of State's Department. It is open approximately six months but it is already being used by many tourists and locals and it is helping to promote a healthy lifestyle as well as tourism and expenditure in the local area. Making sport Ireland leaner and efficient is very positive as is ensuring we target the money to those clubs which need it so that communities can benefit.

I refer to Schedule 1 on how the board is appointed, which is very relevant given the discussion over the past few days. I have a few suggestions which perhaps the Minister of State might consider taking on board. Schedule 1, paragraph 2(2) states that the members of sport Ireland shall be appointed by the Minister. I wonder whether we could be stronger here and state that the members of the board of sport Ireland will have to go through the Public Appointments Service, so that they are assessed on their experience and merit before they are appointed. That would be proper and transparent and I believe it is something the public wants to see.

Schedule 1, paragraph 2(6) states that the Minister shall, in so far as is practicable, endeavour to ensure that among the members of sport Ireland, there is an equitable balance between men and women. That does not go far enough. People will say they could not find the right candidate. We need to be stronger than this and state that there must be a minimum number of males and a minimum number of females. My party has gender quotas so that in an election, there must be a minimum number of candidates of each gender. That would be stronger and would help to redress the balance we see on many State boards where we see 60%, 70% and, in some cases, 80% males. I would like the Minister of State to consider that. There are no age limits for service on the board, which is a good thing. We need to be very inclusive of all age groups in Irish society.

Schedule 1, paragraph 2(5) suggests that we need at least one board member with finance experience and at least one board member with law experience, which is fair enough, but we need another two paragraphs here. Somebody from the disability community should be represented on the board as a matter of course. We have seen the successful performance of our athletes in the recent Paralympics. We need to learn from that and ensure their particular insights are brought to bear in the decisions of the board. We should also look at how we can involve new communities in sport Ireland. We are not at the stage yet at which other countries are, where they have heroes from members of their new communities. Germany has players like Mesut Özil, Italy has players like Mario Balotelli and the UK has Mo Farah, all of whom are members of the new communities who became national heroes. We have only seen immigration in the past 12 to 15 years. We are not at that stage yet but we can expect, and we should plan, to see members from new communities taking part and running or playing football for their new country. I would like to see new communities represented on the board so that their particular concerns and issues are taken on board in the planning of sport Ireland.

I thank the Minister of State for the commitment he is showing to sport and for the work he is doing to ensure clubs have the necessary capital expenditure when they need it. This Bill is very positive and I commend it to the House.

Debate adjourned.